In So You’re Going To Have A Reading: Part II, we discussed briefly what to do when you have rude audience members. In Part III, we’ll expand upon that and look into different scenarios and their solutions.
The night before I have a reading, I usually practice a few times in front of a mirror. When I practice I imagine that they completely enraptured from the moment I start speaking. I imagine them laughing at every single joke I make. I imagine them applauding loudly after I finish. I imagine an agent approaching me afterwards telling me my reading was so impressive that it made them want to start representing me immediately.
If you couldn’t tell, I have a highly active imagination.
Obviously, it is unrealistic to go into a reading with those sorts of expectations. However, it is very important to understand how to engage an audience and how to listen to them as well. You are there to communicate to them, to share your work with them. Sometimes observing how they react can help you give a better reading.
Out of every audience, there will usually be at least one or two people who will be completely engaged the entire time. They will nod, laugh, and smile at the appropriate times, they will really be looking at you as you read. These people are your friends. When reading it is important to look up from your work and scan the room to connect with the audience. I know it’s hard to tear yourself away from the words sometimes, but that’s why you practice before hand to plan when you are going to take a breathe/look up/etc. I find what works best for me is to look to the left of the room then work my way to the right slowly as I speak. Now during this scan of the room it will be clear who your engaged audience members are. While you should try to look at the entire room when making a scan, reading to these few people every now and then will help animate your speech. When it feels like you are directing the story or poem to a specific person, the reading becomes more intimate and will make your reading more interesting to everyone in the room. Just take care not to stare down one person the entire time. That makes everyone uncomfortable.
When an audience is just straight up not listening to you it can be very discouraging. Ultimately, if the audience is blatantly not paying attention it is not your fault. But I encourage you to not let this affect your reading. I’ve felt like just giving up halfway through a reading before because it felt like no one was listening to me and no one cared. But you should remember that you worked hard and your work deserves to be heard. Even when it is tempting to stop giving it 100% halfway through a reading, you must power through and fight to be as engaging as you can be. It is exhausting trying to connect with an audience that isn’t listening, but giving up will not get you anywhere. If you really believe in the work, then, even if it doesn’t feel like it, someone will notice. Passion is very important when giving a reading. When you care about the work, and it shows, other people will notice, and chances are they will end up caring as well.
- Sarah Stansbury